LED Street Lights May Be Keeping You Up at Night

19 June 2016

That new light-emitting diode (LED) street lighting in your neighborhood may be the reason you are not sleeping well at night.

At least that’s what the American Medical Association (AMA) is saying in its latest guidance to communities looking at selecting LED lighting for their neighborhoods or city streets. The AMA isn’t saying not to install LED lighting but cautions against the use of improper LED technology.

About 10% of existing U.S. street lighting has been converted to solid-state LED lighting, with more efforts planned to expand this movement. But despite the energy and environmental benefits, some LED lighting can be harmful when used as street lights, the organization says.

Bright LED lighting emits a large amount of blue light that appears white to the naked eye. While this makes driving difficult because it causes more nighttime glare than conventional lighting, blue-rich LED streetlights’ wavelengths operate at a level that suppresses melatonin during nighttime, AMA says. The organization points to estimates that say white LED lamps have five times greater effect on circadian sleep rhythms than conventional street lamps.

The AMA says recent studies point to brighter residential nighttime lighting being responsible for reduced sleep times, dissatisfaction with sleep quality, excessive sleepiness, impaired daytime functioning and obesity.

The effects go beyond just humans, however. Blue light-rich LED lamps disrupt many species that need a dark environment, and poorly designed LED lighting disorients some bird, insect, turtle and fish species, AMA says.

Naturally, the AMA is recommending communities and cities to minimize and control blue-rich environmental lighting by using the lowest emission of blue light possible to reduce glare. The organization also recommends an intensity threshold for LED lighting that minimizes blue-rich light by either shielding the light to minimize glare or dimming the lights during off-peak time periods.

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